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Metro Posting Signs For 'Next Bus' Return

A lot of the old signs were still visible at many bus stops, but Metro says it's posting thousands more as it prepares to relaunch the Next Bus system on July 1.

metro next_bus_signs.jpg Look for stop and phone number. (Metro photo)

It's a relaunch because last time the thing didn't work. The system is supposed to show people when the next couple of buses are scheduled to arrive at their stop, but it wasn't accurate enough, so Metro GM John B. Catoe Jr. had it taken down for retooling in 2007.

If this works, it will be a huge breakthrough for regional transit. There are few moments longer than those spent standing at a bus stop, looking down the road for a sign of hope that the bus is approaching. We do have some bus services now that operate every 10 minutes. That's great, but most riders aren't near those routes. The Next Bus system will serve more than 12,000 stops region wide.

This isn't quite like the platform signs in all Metrorail stations that announce the next three train arrivals. With Next Bus, there will be electronic signs at some bus stops. But the more widespread use of the service will be through Metro's Web site or by telephone. You'll look at one of the red, white and blue signs now being posted, see your bus stop number and call 202-637-7000 to get the arrival times.

This is GPS technology, but it still involves some calculations and estimates about typical traffic patterns, but the estimates are updated very two minutes. Metro says the predictions made by the repaired system should be accurate to within several minutes.

Metro Resources:  Riding the System  |  Trip Planner   |   Map  |  Post Coverage

By Robert Thomson  |  May 27, 2009; 10:40 AM ET
Categories:  Metro , transit  
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I do hope it works. I don't understand what the problem was originally...San Francisco has had a functioning system for years (in other words, it's not like inventing the wheel).

Posted by: DCLiz | May 27, 2009 11:59 AM | Report abuse

Accurate to within several minutes? And you have to call to get the times? Wow, I'm impressed. Way to be ambitious, metro. I can't see how this is going to be an improvement.

Posted by: Arlington5 | May 27, 2009 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Dr. G, Will we be able to access the Next Bus system on cell phones, similar to how you can currently get next train information on a cell phone from the wmata mobile site?

I'm looking forward to trying this out when it is made live. To within a few mintues is fine with me. If I know a bus will arrive in 5-10 minutes great, i'll wait. If I know it's going to be 30 for the next bus, I often end up just walking.

Posted by: UMDTerpsGirl | May 27, 2009 1:01 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: Hi, TerpsGirl. Yeah, you'll be able to use your cell phone for Next bus information. (202-637-7000)

So some people might want to check online before leaving the office for the homeward commute. And maybe others would just be tired of walking, see a bus stop with the number posted, and call in on a cell phone to see if it's worth waiting. This could remove a serious barrier to bus use.

Posted by: Robert Thomson | May 27, 2009 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Can they possibly Twitter updates to you if the ETA changes? That is, if you check on a particular route and time and it indicates the next one will arrive at 5:02 p.m., but then traffic issues cause it to be more than 2 minutes later, perhaps updates can be sent out? This may be way too much to ask at first! But I did get text updates about train delays during the inauguration, so perhaps a user could at least sign up for delay alerts???

Posted by: HyacinthofDC | May 28, 2009 3:31 PM | Report abuse

Also coming July 1, actually June 29, but this really needs its own topic, is Fairfax Connector bus service replacing Metrobus 12s (Centreville), 20s (Chantilly), and 2W (Oakton) with bus schedules just posted today at

Posted by: commute201 | May 28, 2009 8:48 PM | Report abuse

Finally, even though I will not be able to enjoy this upgrade. I lived in DC for 18 months and am now back in Switzerland. I always wondered, why the capital of the richest country in the world is unable to run a high class public transportation system. The US is great in so many ways, and other can learn a lot. But when it comes to running public transportation, Washington could learn from Europe. Take Zurich (Switzerland) for example: a neatly interwoven network of suburban trains, trams and buses run on time on a daily basis. Their newest feautre: in buses and trams you now see the next connections at the next stop - in real time. And yes, trams that run every 7-8 minutes to connect to each other. It is possible. And systems like next bus have been around for years. Why does it seem to be so hard for WMATA to get things going? (if you are interested: shows you what public transportation looks like in Zurich)

Posted by: enggist | May 29, 2009 7:25 AM | Report abuse

I wish Dr. Gridlock would get his facts straight and maybe understand what NextBus will do. I'm in the process of moving to DC from San Francisco and NextBus works great in San Francisco. NEXTBUS INFORMATION CAN BE RETRIEVED BY CELL PHONE - NOT JUST BY CALLING A NUMBER AND USING AN VOICE SYSTEM - BUT ALSO ON YOUR CELL PHONE MOBILE WEB OR BY USING SMS TEXT MESSAGING. IT WILL WORK ON ANY CELL PHONE. Also, NextBus is only as good as the GPS tracking system from which it takes its information. My understanding from reading a number of blogs and interviews with Mr. Catoe is that NextBus will be using WMATA's on-board technology. If the tracker on the bus is broken, then there will be no prediction. Also, bus drivers need to log in to the system (at least in San Francisco had to). If they don't log in, NextBus doesn't know which route the bus is on. Both the trackers and driver log-ins are WMATA issues.

My guess is that everyone here will love NextBus as we do/did in San Francisco. They have a great site -

Posted by: transitnut | May 29, 2009 9:33 AM | Report abuse

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